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CANA-DUH: Labor Outrage at Decision to Export 5 Million Tons of Asbestos to Developing Countries

With the announcement from Quebec Premier Jean Charest that his government will grant a $58 million loan to reopen the Jeffery Mine Indian, labor leaders are expressing their outrage. The Jeffery Mine will export nearly 5 million tons of Chrysotile Asbestos over the next 25 years to developing countries such as India.

Mr. Pon Kumar, President of the Tamil Nadu Unorganised Construction Workers Federation (TCWF), an affiliate of Building and Wood Workers International (BWI), suggests that Charest is knowingly participating in a project that will expose workers to debilitating, cancer-causing toxins:

“The decision to fund the Jeffery mines and knowing that Asbestos would be exported to India, which will have devastating impact on the health of millions of Indian workers, who will handle this dangerous fibre in factories and at construction sites should be condemned”.

India continues to experience explosive development but with that comes grave health concerns. BWI Health and Safety Director Fiona Murie has called the decision to import asbestos immoral:

“At a time when countries in the west are counting bodies and grappling with the increased number of asbestos-caused cancers, it is indeed immoral that the Government of India is importing over four hundred thousand metric tonnes of asbestos every year and putting it into the built environment. Canada should be ashamed of their role in supplying not only the asbestos, but moreso the misimformation that denies the risks to health and encourages its use. Very little asbestos was ever used in India until the bans were introduced in developing countries, so by1985, use began to increase. But from 2004, when the government of India reduced import duty on chrysotile asbestos from 78% to only 15% the floodgates opened and it became a cheap, but deadly, option for building materials The latency period for asbestos cancers is around thirty years after exposure, so we can expect to see many cases of asbestos cancers appearing in the near future, and lasting for many years to come”.

Mining for asbestos in India is outlawed, but the importation of asbestos is said to directly employ 100,000 workers. Despite the risks, the Indian government refuses to acknowledge the chemical’s dangers. The Indian government has only registered 222 cases of mesothelioma, the rare form of cancer associated with asbestos, and the government has only compensated 51 workers for their damages. The true effect, numerically speaking, is unknown.

BWI must now accept that the Canadian government is willing to profit from a product that has historically and will continue to kill workers. General Secretary of the TCWF Karnan questions the rationality and motives behind this decision.

Last year, the issue became so contentious that it even caught the attention of The Daily Show. At this time, we put together a piece on the matter which highlighted the Canadian government’s ‘do as I say, not as I do’ attitude. You see, while Canadian officials were fighting to keep asbestos creation and exportation alive, they began a billion-dollar project to rid the parliamentary building of the deadly toxin.


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